The Ill-kept Oath – C.C. Aune

I don’t understand why this book was such a slog. The writing was … fine. I had no objections. I didn’t want to wrap myself up in it and stay there forever, but there was nothing I can put my finger on that drove me off, either (except the ARC formatting, but that’s not the book’s fault) (and some unfortunate typos – the classic “discrete” for “discreet”, and … well, you can’t really lisp a sentence that contains no sibilants). The characters were … well, fine. I liked the two girls at the center of the story well enough, was fine with spending time with them, believed their tempers and stupid decisions and so on rather than being aggravated by them … but just didn’t care very much. On the whole, the thing just seemed like it must be about 800 pages – I just felt like I couldn’t make a dent without a bit of determination.

Part of my frustration with it was the manner in which information was doled out – or not. The story begins with those two fairly ordinary, clever, pretty young women who have grown up like sisters, one about to embark on her first Season in London, the other sorrowfully staying home. The latter has only her father; the former has only her brother, their parents both being long dead. And, of course, it is the story of those three dead parents that becomes very important in the two girls’ lives. Each girl almost simultaneously receives or finds a box of artifacts which belonged to their mothers, about which they are told absolutely nothing (for one of them, it was “I don’t want to give you this but here, don’t ask any questions, it belonged to your mother but despite your obvious need for more information I’m not saying anything else, no really I will not talk about it, it’s only old junk so don’t touch it or even look at it, goodness I need to go and lie down”) and things begin to change almost immediately.

While I respect a writer’s wish to avoid the dread infodump and not to baby her reader, I kept feeling as though I’d missed a page. Or a chapter. Wait – when was I told about that? Or that? Or the other? As best I can tell, unless all of my reading comprehension has gone, the answer to that question was never. Information suddenly just became part of the narrative. Characters changed at what seemed like the flip of a page, from ally to enemy or vice versa or from pauper to convenient prince, suddenly the girls knew things without the revelation being shared with the reader, and it was all very irritating. Titles like “Oathbreaker” and “Protector” suddenly become part of the conversation; Prudence determines that the last thing she wants is a trip to the Refuge, when I still had no idea what that might be, and as far as I could tell neither ought Prudence to have. The villain of the piece is not only one of the whiplash moments of “wait, what?” but is pretty unconvincing – I never felt any whiff of danger from that quarter.

There were some very nice moments. Prudence’s love affair was nicely handled; it was more romantic than most of what passes for romance novels I’ve read. “In that tiny enclosure, she couldn’t fail to notice the ragged quality of his breathing. A hint of gin in the air bespoke of nerves that had required some calming.” … “In the half-darkness, he stooped and closed his mouth over hers. Prudence sank against his body, welcoming the radiant heat of his strength. Never in her life had she felt safer than this.” There were a few quite nice scenes. A few. The language was mostly appropriate to the period, there were passages when the setting, time and place, came through very well, and there were some excellent character moments.

But just about every one of the secondary characters was enigmatic. Should the girls trust various and sundry people or not? Was Edward a buffoon or not? Was Aunt Amelia a fluttery old fool, or a sharp and able protector? Did MacNeal really have valid excuses for his disappearances? And what on or off the earth is “The Druineach Legacy” (the title of the series) supposed to mean? Oughtn’t I to have a hint by the end of the first book? Honestly, by the end, I just didn’t really care that much.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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